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How the Saints can leverage trade for Russell Wilson

The New Orleans Saints have a secret weapon to trade for Russell Wilson, and the interest is more than mutual.

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has quietly entered the NFL quarterback carousel at the epicenter of the 2021 offseason. With the expectation the New Orleans Saints will see their longtime franchise quarterback, Drew Brees, retire, they’re at a point of impasse at quarterback. Despite a myriad of elite quarterbacks that have actively sought suitors in a trade, New Orleans has thus far declined to entertain the market.

In the eleventh hour, Russell Wilson threw his hat into the ring. Apparently, this keenly piqued the Saints interest.

On Feb. 25, Wilson’s agent Mark Rodgers told ESPN that, while Wilson wants to remain in Seattle, he would only go to four destinations: Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, and New Orleans Saints. The Athletic shortly thereafter published a report extensively outlining an apparent long-standing rift between Wilson and head coach, Pete Carroll.

What started as boredom-driven offseason chatter gained legitimate traction. New England Patriots fans dismissed the slow onslaught of reports indicating a splintered relationship between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The same trend occurred with Stefon Diggs. A quarterback who strongly wishes to remain with his team doesn’t have his agent explicitly name four trade destinations on record.


What a Trade Would Require

The posited compensation for Russell Wilson is three first-round picks. This is missing a crucial puzzle piece: Seattle’s new quarterback.

For both the franchise and Wilson, this deal need be mutually beneficial. But it’s not as simple as the best offer; with his no-trade clause, Wilson inarguably only leaves for legitimately greener pastures. Here’s what the two sides will require in a trade.

Seattle: Significant draft capital; only Dallas has a pick in the Top 10. Additional compensation likely requires a star player in the package. The Seahawks don’t have the picks to swap to move up in the draft due to the Jamal Adams trade. Thus, it undoubtedly requires a quarterback in return.

Wilson: Championship-caliber destination that rivals his current organization. Past that, two voiced requirements: a protective o-line, and a coach that allows him control over his legacy.

When you consider the desires of Wilson, there’s really one viable suitor. One with supreme organizational function, the NFL’s best tackle duo, a championship roster, and a coach who’s always trusted his quarterback to take the game into his own hands. The paramount symbiotic relationship exists with the New Orleans Saints.

There is a legitimate scenario where the Saints pull this trade off, which we’ll detail below. Moreover, and more importantly, there’s indication that an exploratory trade for Wilson has been transpiring behind the scenes. As CSC’s Kade Kistner and I devised last week, the X-factor leverage the Saints can offer is Jameis Winston.


Trade Compensation

Seahawks Receive: Jameis Winston, Michael Thomas, 2021 first-round pick (28th overall), 2022 first-round pick

Saints Receive: Russell Wilson

Before we get into how this trade happens, considering Jameis Winston is an unrestricted free agent, let’s quickly address the cap implications. As thoroughly outlined by Nick Underhill at NewOrleans.Football, acquiring Wilson isn’t even dire. He has a $19 million base salary for 2021; essentially, a large portion can be converted to a signing bonus to drop the cap hit.

The question, really, is devising a trade that Seattle is amenable to. The only way that happens is with a serviceable quarterback in return not named Taysom Hill. New Orleans themselves need a quarterback under contract next season, barring the camp that believes Hill is a feasible starter. It’s Jameis Winston, or Russell Wilson.

An obvious roadblock is that Drew Brees has yet to retire. If you ask me? It’s all but certain he retires; the timing may be relevant to Payton’s play for Wilson. In order for Winston to be traded, he needs to be under contract. That can’t happen until Brees announces his retirement, one that deserves to be free of relations to this trade. In this scenario, Brees retires in a week or two, with Winston signed prior to the legal tampering period on Mar. 15, and a trade on Mar. 17, the day it can become official.

Winston wanted another shot; seeing what New Orleans did for Teddy Bridgewater was paramount. Unlike Bridgewater, Winston never saw the field outside the second-half of the Week 10 game. Should he choose to test the market, he likely finds himself on a lowball deal similar to Cam Newton. Here, he either becomes the starting quarterback for the Saints, or the playoff-contending Seahawks.

The NBA is littered with sign-and-trade deals, but there really exists no precedent in the NFL. In fact, the most recent attempt was a failed one by the Saints with Jadaveon Clowney. The problem with the Clowney play was it was solely for purposes of trading money and circumventing the cap. Saints fans know that if Roger Goodell sniffs even a bit of sly maneuvering, the trade halts. However, there’s a perfectly legal and reasonable way to go about this, as researched by myself and CSC’s Ross Jackson.

New Orleans must negotiate the terms of Winston’s contract with no input from Seattle; as what got them in trouble with Clowney. Thankfully, due to the cap situation, whatever deal the Saints work out is one the Seahawks will be more than amenable to absorbing. The teams have previously worked together in the Max Unger Jimmy Graham trade, bolstering good faith. There would be no no-trade clause; Winston could technically renege, and the team finds itself worse off than Seattle. Just a reasonable, necessary either way, contract — one with no red flags or risky maneuvers. If the trade falls through on Seattle’s end, Winston starts for New Orleans. It’s frankly a more than fair proposal Winston should go for, and has nothing illicit.

In fact, it was suggested by ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum, a former NFL GM, for a trade between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans.

“They could get Prescott signed and they could trade him straight-up for Deshaun Watson,” Tannenbaum outlined. “It’s player-for-player. It solves one problem for one team and another for Dallas. The Cowboys get a player who is slightly better under contract for five years.”

The issue with Tannenbaum’s suggestion is there’s no world in which Prescott agrees to a contract that ships him off to the biggest dumpster fire in NFL history. Here, the value is nearly equal on both sides of this posited trade. Winston is a starter for a viable contender, and fits perfectly in a conservative, run-first offense that limits his propensity for interceptions. Wilson joins a team that altered its offense for three quarterbacks in two seasons. One whose film was fastidiously studied by his coaching staff in an attempt to surmise what the Saints did with Jimmy Graham that they could not.

A franchise quarterback that immediately replaces Brees, thereby not wasting a championship roster, is worth the loss of picks. With Winston and Michael Thomas, three picks aren’t needed. While one could swap Thomas for another elite player like Marshon Lattimore, the loss of Lattimore is greater than Thomas with Wilson under center. Thomas would be designated as a post-June 1 transaction to spread his cap hit over two seasons. If Seattle suddenly decides an o-line is important, they may settle for Andrus Peat — an upgrade — but only with the inclusion of Thomas.

One might see DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and wonder why Carroll would want another receiver. One might not fathom why an acquisition of Wilson should involve the loss of his prime weapon. Thomas is not as vital to the future as Russell Wilson, who would still have several viable weapons.

Thomas elevates inexperienced quarterbacks like no one before; perhaps his most valuable trait. We saw this first-hand with Bridgewater, Hill, and briefly in Winston’s second-half appearance. The two practiced together all offseason. Seattle should be cognizant of that specific value of Thomas in terms of acquiring a lower-caliber quarterback. The immediate familiarity, and catch radius, of Thomas gives Winston a fighting shot in either destination.


The Case for New Orleans

If you look at the four viable suitors, the Saints have the least to offer in compensation. That should be a glaring indication that Wilson has voiced a strong desire to end up in the Big Easy. And a lookback at this timeline suggests the feeling is mutual.

On Feb. 7, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports published a peculiar article implying Wilson’s availability. As this was two days prior to Wilson’s alarming media tour, I myself missed this footnote; New Orleans had already called to inquire about his availability.

“I can’t help but consider the possibilities of what Wilson could do with someone like Sean Payton, for instance. I could see the Saints being a prime destination for Wilson if this heated up, and I hear they most certainly would like to further explore his potential availability after some exploratory calls.”

On Feb. 9, Brandon Marshall, on First Things First, confirmed that New Orleans had, “already made calls.” On Feb. 26, Marshall ranked the four destinations, and what they each offer. While he discussed the appeal of opportunity and rosters of the other three suitors, there was not even a selling point for the Saints, second only to Las Vegas. Frankly, he seemed to put New Orleans on notice to free the necessary cap space, and quickly.

Recall the media tour Sean Payton took on Feb. 3, bolstering the promise of Jameis Winston, and slightly, Taysom Hill? Many thought his inclusion of Hill was to entice trade suitors. What if the point was to bolster Winston to a specific suitor instead?

Drew Brees then restructured his contract to free up cap space on Feb. 6. Payton had also noted that we should expect an announcement from Brees in a “week or two.” It’s been an entire month. What else is there delaying an announcement Payton explicitly admitted was quickly approaching?

Russell Wilson named his sports idols as Derek Jeter and Drew Brees. He gave Brees his last Pro Bowl start last year. He’s shared how he shaped his career after Brees, how Brees paved the way for short quarterbacks in the NFL, and how he fought through doubters to prove himself, and his legacy. Just as Wilson wishes to do now.

Brees wants to leave the team he’s called home since 2006 in good hands. It would be unsurprising if Brees himself wasn’t the top recruiter of Wilson. The announcement delay is becoming to feel deliberate. It’s made it appear as if, rather than a team with a blatant need, New Orleans is maneuvering as if the future is uncertain. There’s really no reason Brees hasn’t announced by now, and why the Saints haven’t subsequently secured their next quarterback. And it’s not because Brees is coming back on a vet minimum salary.

What it allows, implicitly, is for the Saints to move in the shadows. Once he retires, the spotlight becomes glaring on his heir apparent. And if Brees had voiced strong thoughts of returning, Payton wouldn’t have called Seattle, days prior to Brees offloading his salary hit on Feb. 6.

This trade would be unprecedented, and requires a lot of moving parts; foremost, an agreeance and signing on the part of Winston. I just don’t see how Pete Carroll suddenly changes his inherent offensive philosophy, and walks back from this public, and apparently long-standing, rift. It really comes down to Payton making a play. And it appears he’s been doing so for weeks. Should a Russell Wilson trade actually take place, everything points to the New Orleans Saints.


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